Book title: Tragedy of the Mannequins
Author: Hassan Nasir
Publ: Pappiyon (Sep.2003)
Those were the words that captured my attention. Little wonder, I have always been fascinated by these ever-increasing number of muslim names on book covers. Especially the contemporary ones. Salman Rushdie to Asra Nomani, Khaled Hosseini to Nadeem Aslam, these names have never failed in casting that strange spell on me. The used book bearing the faded cover with marks of dried liquid drops spilt on it and sallow, dirty page-edges slightly rolled over at the corners including the paperback binding rested silently, unwanted, unfondled, unhandled, unattended by anyone, perhaps totally rejected by the person who had read it earlier, on one of the two stands on either side of the door of the cute bookshop Idiom Booksellers in Fort Cochin, speacializing in books on Indian culture, history, and literature, run by Michael of U.K. for whom Fort Cochin is a second home. But unlike other muslim authors, this book held something more delightful in it for me. As soon as I managed to pluck my eyes from the attractive light pinkish-maroonish cover art and move on to the first page, I discovered that the book was not written by someone in Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan or some non-resident UK or USA muslim. It was someone from Kerala. A Malayalee from Cochin. Most surprisingly, Mattancherry! A first novel in English by a Malayalee in Mattancherry is indeed a thing to cherish! I had never heard of this book or the author before. Nor have I met anyone who made the slightest remark about him or his book. And not even a single entry in google search for the title of the book, Tragedy of the Mannequins, until a couple of entries were made by myself in Bookcrossing and Shelfari! Has anyone heard about this book or its author? Very curious :)
Was this book never published? Was it just a proof copy from the press after which the author dropped the plans of publishing it? It is a possibility as there are so many errors, typographical and otherwise. Basic mistakes in the usage of language and spelling errors are so many. Perhaps this was just a draft. In a few places, the language appeared to be a bit poor. If this has been already published, it must have utterly failed and forgotten thanks to these drawbacks. But mostly it displayed a very brilliant expression of language and an admirably flowing vocabulary. Was a ghost-writer involved? Is the excellence found in parts to be attributed to them and the poor portions to a crude framework created by the author on which the former worked? The printing, paper quality and the cover art maintain high standards. The novel itself is, no doubt, a great work of art. If only some technical aspects had been taken care of!
The plot is entirely gripping. This is one of the books that captivates the reader's attention totally. And the pages flip so fast. You just can't afford to toss the book aside and get occupied with something else without having the magical influence of the pages read to that point pulling you back to it harder and harder. My appeal to the author is if only he could make a re-examination of the book and make the necessary minor alterations and modifications, a little touching up, or even a tiny bit of remodelling here and there and remove the detrimental, unfavourable elements (which, I must say, are not so much in the impact they make on the work as a whole as they are in their number), and ultimately hand it over to some people who know how to successfully market a good book, because I have no doubt the book is on par with, or even above par of many of the books that have been labelled international bestsellers today.
The plot tells the story of Asokan who rejects the Gandhian doctrines infused in him by his Gandhian father from his very childhood and goes on to live his life according to his own urges and instincts, backed by the advices by his mother, and not for any ism or ideology. To my sheer joy, the entire length of the narration is interspersed heavily and colourfully with mentions of and references to numerous books, and characters and anecdotes from them, diverse personalities and ideologies and discussions of matters related to culture, literature, arts and history. The perfection in the moulding of the characters and the shrewdness in the design with which they are made to interact with each other contribute wonderfully to the success of the plot. The portrayal of Asokan, Elizabeth Domanic, Aysha(who reminded me of a certain Malayalam blogger and got me thinking if it is really her and if the author has any relation with her), Gopi and others is unforgettably vivid. Gandhi himself, in a way, has an indispensable role to play in the book. If at all I have any problem with the plot and the craft of the protagonists, it is the way he made Asokan appear to be. I doubt if the author has really fully succeeded in making the reader see Asokan the same way he wants to see him himself and wants the readers to see. The narrator of the story finds Asokan's character so praiseworthy and inspiring that he goes on to take pains in getting a posthumous biographical novel of him published and an award instituted in his name to be given away to the best students in the university Asokan studied in. But I couldn't find Asokan as much admirable as the narrator/author seems to want him to be.
Nevertheless, I truly loved reading this book! And it is one of those books I would love to read again.